Reading the fairways and greens of their golf course like poker players, the 16-member board of governors of the Seawane Country Club believe they are holding a pat hand, and are working on a 10-year plan to sustain the 91-year-old Hewlett Harbor facility, which is struggling financially as membership has declined.
Seawane’s governing board will take several measures that aim to sustain what is self-billed as “the premier country club on Long Island’s South Shore.” In a Jan. 11 letter to club members, the board laid out its plans.
“While we are still exploring options, it now appears that our best long-term solution is member investment alone or a combination of member investment and bank debt secured by the value of our property, which is well in excess of our current debt,” board President Alan Feldman wrote. “Now that we’ve done the necessary due diligence regarding the true value of both our club and its property, we have prepared a member investment proposal outlining the structure of the opportunity being offered.”
The club is also planning to sell off small parcels of land for residential development, board member Larry Cohen said, noting that one area, behind the 13th green and the 14th tee box, which abuts a cul-de-sac, has room for a house on a half-acre lot, and two other parcels, by the tennis courts, are suitable for single-family homes.
“We’re working with a number of proposals to see what the interest is by members in the club to reduce the debt service and craft reserves,” said Cohen, a Seawane member since 1979. He added that in addition to golf and tennis, the club hosts activities for members, and an array of organizations hold events at the facility.
Seawane’s financial difficulties are not unique among country clubs across the United States and on Long Island in recent years. In Suffolk County, Island Hills Golf Course, in Sayville, closed in 2015, and the land is being considered for an upscale apartment complex. Tallgrass, in Shoreham, became a solar farm, and the Links, in Shirley, is now a residential development. In the Five Towns, the Woodmere Club was sold in 2017, and the new owners are planning to build at least 285 homes on the 118-acre property.
Spencer McGowan, president of the Dallas-based McGowan Group, an investment firm, has observed the country club industry as a professional and as a club member. He noted that there are elite clubs with members on the social register that are not financially stressed. There are prestige clubs where memberships cost tens of thousands of dollars, and which more often than not have the best competitive golfers, McGowan said.
Private lower-end clubs, meanwhile, he said, “are defaulting on debt as the number of active golfers is down about 30 percent,” a figure he attributes to the decline of Tiger Woods’s golf career, beginning in late 2009. Public-private courses will not survive the current environment, McGowan added.
“ClubCorp, in Dallas, operates and owns the most prestige membership clubs in the nation, and they were forced into a private-equity buyout after the stock initial public offering failed miserably,” he said. “Course redevelopment into higher-end homes appears to be the only option for the non-elite and non-prestige courses.”
Hewlett Harbor Mayor Mark Weiss said that the Seawane club is a vital part of the village, and the village board is keeping a watchful eye on the short- and long-term developments. “The Seawane Country Club is not only geographically central to the Village of Hewlett Harbor, but it is also central to the look and feel of our most beautiful community,” Weiss said. “Based on ongoing conversations with the club’s leadership, I am confident that the interests of the club and the interests of our residents are aligned, in that the club’s leadership wishes to keep the club open as a premier, full-service country club.”
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